In 1967, Woodside Petroleum Development Pty. Ltd., then Burmah Oil Company of Australia Ltd., drilled its first well on the North West Shelf, Ashmore Reef No. 1
Within the oil industry, Australia was considered logistically a remote area of the World, and the North West Shelf, one of the most remote areas of Australia.
A description of the problems overcome to achieve the commencement of oil exploration in North West Shelf waters. with a main operations base in Perth, 2000 Km distance from the well location and a forward supply base at Perth, 2000 Km distance from the well location and a forward supply base at Broome, 400 Km from Ashmore Reef, up to offshore drilling in the 1980's is presented in the following six topics : presented in the following six topics :
Construction of offshore refuelling installations for helicopters.
Commissioning of temporary forward bases as drilling permit areas decreed.
Setting up of communication network from Perth to Broome and drillingrigs.
Logistic problems with air, land and sea distances from Perth to drilling areas.
Drilling in waters under threat of tropical cyclone activity.
Present day operations.
An update of current operations in North West waters will be given at conference time and will not be included in the published paper due to the time element involved.
My paper today is primarily illustrating the difficulties of offshore oil exploration off the far North West Coast of Western Australia.
Australia was once described as like a woman over 65 years of age - everyone knows where it is but nobody really wants to go there; and this is seen in the harsh. uninhabited. rugged outback in the far North West.
I have many visits in Perth from uninitiated travellers especially from Houston and when I explain that our operating base is in Broome - they say well let's grab a cab and get over there whereupon he would find himself pretty disillusioned after four days driving but sitting next to a pretty happy cab driver awaiting his fare.
I will therefore illustrate the size of Western Australia which indicates this size in comparison to Texas or Great Britain.
Historically, in early 1966, Burmah Oil Company of Australia commenced planning for exploration drilling in the North West Shelf waters off Western Australia.
At this time the main offices were located in Sydney, N.S.W. and a small office was opened in Perth to coordinate the setting up of the W.A. offshore operation.
Several locations were investigated as the site of the first offshore well and finally it was decided to drill Mt. Ashmore No. 1 in Permit Area NT P13 utilising ZAPATA's drillship "Investigator". This location was 400 NM north of Broome.
In such an area. logistics and supply problems were considerable. Safe harbours and suitable supply points along the coast are few and it was decided to establish the major supply base at Broome and then to construct concrete helicopter pads and refuelling facilities at Cape Leveque, Adele Island and Browse Island. Prior to the decision to build the offshore refuelling points for the drilling of Mt Ashmore No. 1, consideration had been given to the use of hovercraft/hydrofoils, living boats and fixed wing aircraft operating from Broome to West Island (Ashmore Reef) for crew changing and other logistical purposes. A helipad was eventually constructed at Ashmore Reef.
The construction of the island installations were undertaken by a local Broome contractor and using landing barges to carry heavy equipment and construction materials to the sites, completed the work in October 1967. Early replenishments of the Jet At fuel was made by barges and supply boats. whose crews floated the fuel ashore in 44 gallon drums and rolled the drums up the beaches to the helipads, quite often a distance of 150–200 yards.
Resident population density on the North West Coast was very low and virtually all labour had to be recruited from Perth, some 2,000 km air distance from Broome to set up and maintain the main Shore base.
In 1968, the drillship "Glomar Tasman" was contracted and its first well was Legendre No. 1. To service this operation, the first of the forward bases was established at Point Samson with an exploration camp, helicopter hangar and radio room. Point Samson remained as the operational base for the Southern permit areas until 1973, when the helicopter facility was moved to Karratha Airport and the Point Samson base ceased to exist. Since that time. other forward Point Samson base ceased to exist. Since that time. other forward bases have been established from time to time at Port Hedland. Darwin, Kununurra, Gove, Koolan Island and also two bases on Timor, at KUPANG and DILI. For the operations at Gove, Northern Territory, a temporary helipad made of wire mesh etc. was built at Cape Wessel on Arnhem Land. It was found necessary to place an employee from the Broome labour force at Cape Wessel to assist with refuelling and to caretake the facility. This proved quite hazardous for the person concerned as his main visitors other than the daily helicopter were many large salt water crocodiles who explored the Cape at night.
For the Timor operations, the bases at KUPANG and DILI were established after consultations with the respective authorities. Kupang base was commissioned in 1973 and decommissioned early 1974. Dili was operational from late 1974 to early 1975. A land drilling operation was also carried out on the island of SAVU in 1975.